I doubt many would want to be out and about in the current weather, but spare a moment to think on your plants. You may think that they will be loving all this rain, but understanding that a plant needs air as well as water, you a chance to stop the rot, before you have to expensive replacements. If you garden is well and truly sodden, now is the time to get out there and address some immediate issues.
The lawn is still growing, given the mild air currents, but it will be sitting wet – something it hates. If your garden is on anything but sand, its roots will be struggling to breath and you will need to slit or aerate the lawn. First sweep away all the debris that has collected. Then, grab a fork. Starting at a corner where you will not have to walk over it twice, insert the fork at a 45 degree angle and lift the turf slightly. It needn’t be by much, just enough to allow an air pocket. Remove the fork and repeat. The best method is to create a zig-zag of forked columns or rows across the lawn. Once you have done this, a light dressing of compost would be welcome. Try not to walk on the lawn for a week or so, to let it settle.
Alternatively, you could just use the special shoes or aerating machinery that is available, but given the amount of water that has fallen, and given snow is approaching, I am not sure this will suffice.
If there are any areas in your garden, where shrubs sit wet, try to fork the roots to give them air. Some trees even – such as the Southern Beech (Nothofagus spp.) – will rot quite quickly if in wet soil leaving you with a dead plant and an expensive headache to replace.
Well, Christmas is almost upon us. I suppose you are looking about for the holly and ivy to adorn your various crevices. This year is particularly good for holly berries so you should get something spectacular above your mantle. A curious custom, it actually predates Christianity. Both plants were representatives of fertility at the mid-winter festivals held across Europe by both the druids and the Romans. However since the 14th Century is has become firmly ensconced in Christams tradition, with an all familiar carol and perhaps a less familiar love song ‘Green Groweth the Holly’ written by Henry VIII no less.
The tradition of the tree itself is of German import and became popular after Prince Consort, Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, decided in 1841, that it was a lovely idea to introduce to the Royal household. Victoria being the smitten Queen she was, loved him and loved the idea, so the tradition was born. To be honest I am not sure what we did before this. Perhaps just stare at the awkward corner of the room wondering where to hide the presents that Santa had so kindly bought us all a little earlier than usual.
Then of course there is the tradition of collecting the Yule Log. This actually refers to a very old idea that has been lost in the mists of time, but has been claimed by modern paganists. The actual theory was at mid-winter (December 23rd) a tree was carefully chosen, cut down and turned into one whole log. It was then brought into the house to burn for the entire winter. The modern take on this is somewhat easier to achieve.
Walk into a local wood or forest and choose a log. This should be approached with reverence and you should ask the earth spirit for permission. Once you are satisfied the sky will not fall on your head, return home and place the log in the Christmas or Mid-Winter fire – making sure to thank the Gods. When the fire is well lit, remove (safely) what is left of the Yule log and put it away (once it is fully without embers). This then should be stored until next winters first fire - bringing you luck for the year ahead.
Now the nights are drawing in and the temperatures are finally getting colder, there is nothing better than enjoying an open fire after a day in the garden collecting leaves or pruning the perennials. Many of the gardens I work in are large enough for a steady supply of wood, but it can always be bought if this avenue is not available. Some of you unlucky ones in modern houses don't have access to a fireplace or indeed the facilities to enjoy a wood burner, but there are many who live in older houses. But a brazier in the garden is always a lovely thing to have in these late autumn evenings.
Before you start to build your fire, always get the chimney checked by a professional chimney sweep. It is also imperative that you make sure the area around the fire is clear, with no carpet or easily flammable materials nearby. Once you and they are satisfied that the airway is clear, you are free to build a fire worthy of Versailles. But please bare in mind, fire and children don`t mix well unless they are made aware of the dangers or younger ones are monitored closely.
However, as you rush off to the wood yard or petrol station to buy the wood, there are differences in the wood you burn.
The king of wood is Ash. Even if it is not well seasoned, it burns well, with no spitting - giving a good temperature and a good burn time. Oak is also good, but needs to be seasoned to burn well. The chestnuts, both sweet and horse, are also good burners, but be aware they may spit, so best invest in a fire guard and watch the carpet. (By spitting I mean small hot lumps of wood get thrown from the fire into the room).
Pine, which is commonly bought at petrol stations, burns well, but fast.
It also leaves a residue in the chimney so another visit from the sweep will be needed before winters end. Another that leaves a residue is cherry so try to avoid this.
Silver birch, burns very hot, as does apple and maple, but both burn very quickly so not ideal for a good fire all evening, but perhaps useful amongst other woods.
The worst I have yet found is Tulip Tree. A light spongy wood, it refuses to catch unless under intense duress and will happily go cold if left alone, but I admit, there are not many tulip trees on offer in wood-yards.
Finally, a tip I was once told with regards to that most dangerous of fire
- the chimney fire - keep a large bag of salt by the hearth. If such an event does occur, throw the bag of salt on the fire immediately and call the Fire Brigade! You may just have saved the roof.
The internet is awash with predictions about what this winter is going to be like. Across the Atlantic, the US has already had its first major snow storm and is expecting more to come.
Traditionally of course, the gardener’s old lore states that in years where there is an abundance of acorns and apples, a hard winter is sure to follow. But I have to admit, not having seen any statistics to back this up, this is perhaps dubious.
The climatologists are predicting, whatever happens, be it snow or rain, it will not be slight. In some quarters it is a stark appraisal - the declaration being that the precipitation won`t be for a few days, but stretch out to a number of weeks, perhaps months. So if we get snow, it will stay. However, I have to say here again, in the South East, there is yet again a serious lack of rain, which will lead to problems next year if the weather does not change.
The meteorologists are less specific. Their long range forecasts state that November will be cold, but mild in comparison to previous years, but of course, they readily admit that they can`t accurately say beyond 5 days what the weather offers.
Either way, it is best to get the right clothes early. Personally, I can`t recommend highly enough Town and Country`s new Rutland neoprene wellies, which are well priced in the market and a bargain considering the manufacturing processes involved. They are warm, hard wearing and comfortable - which, coming from a man who suffers plantar fasciitis this is important. Gloves too play an important part for the brave winter gardener. Last year we had a hoar frost which was so cold I had to wear 3 pairs of gloves at once - a neoprene base layer, the Town and Country Bamboo Textured gloves as secondary layer then the Town and Country Premium Leather and Suede Gloves for warmth.
Trust me, if you buy before the cold really starts, you will not regret the decision.
- Guy Deakins